When I originally conceived the idea of becoming a schoolteacher, the idea was to serve my community and have a portable profession so I could follow my girlfriend around wherever she decided to go. Naive does not begin to describe it.
Despite already a having a B.A., it took me several years to get my teaching certificate, partly because I was a slacker, and partly because I had to work to get myself through school: I had exhausted financial aid at a good school, but one where the required teaching courses were not offered. Also, I had discovered computers, and outside the academic environment, the only one I could get my hands on was an Apple //e. However, like the relationship with that girlfriend, my career in computers never got off the ground.
Getting a job in the public schools in Santa Fe, New Mexico (where the starting salary was $17,000 a year) was very easy. I had chosen to become a math teacher, and while there is actually competition to teach English or History for that kind of money, nobody who can pass a Calculus class is willing to work such a high-stress job for so little money. No one, that is, in their right mind.
My first year, I taught geometry, algebra and a remedial math class. The second year was better: I finagled an assignment to Santa Fe Vocational-Technical High School to create and teach a class to expose vocational students (i.e. kids without a prayer of attending, let alone completing, college) to microcomputers. It was an elective/alternative for the vo-tech kids to take, instead of algebra. I called it “Computer Applications” because I taught the three main applications used in business at that time (1985): word processing, spreadsheet and database. I had six (6) of the original IBM-PCs, from 1980, which had only 64k memory and no expansion slots, and thus could run no useful software. I used them for playing games. I had six (6) Apple //e’s, which when upgraded to 128k and an 80 column video card could run Appleworks. The Apple II’s also had a built-in BASIC called Applesoft, so that’s what I taught: Appleworks and Applesoft. I think, for my students, future clerical workers, just getting familiar with PCs when they were first beginning to take off in the business world was the most useful class they had, next to Typing.
In my first year, I was summoned to a meeting with one of the vice-principals. In his office he had large diplomas (B.A. and M.A.) from an obscure, private Military Academy I had never heard of, in Physical Education. He told me he had a complaint from the parents of one of my Geometry students, who was very distraught because I had told her class that “Geometry is not true”.
As he described the discussion with the parents, it occurred to me that what was being reported back to me, filtered through several uncomprehending minds, was a mini-lecture I gave, in connection with teaching Euclid’s Fifth Postulate, on Non-Euclidean Geometry. This lecture was strictly for the benefit of the brighter students and accompanied with repeated reassurances that it would not be “on the test”. The little girl whose parents complained, however, had interpreted my explanation that there are alternative geometries, based on denial of the Fifth Postulate, as a flat statement that Euclidean Geometry was false. As I explained this to the Vice-Principal, dropping names like Lobachevski, I was shocked to realize he wasn’t getting a word I was saying, that he had never heard of Lobachevski, suspected he was a Communist and that I was a dangerous subversive. He told me: “I think you better stop telling your students that Geometry is not true.”
I vowed never to teach math again. Unfortunately, my microcomputer class got cancelled the following year when, in a fit of legislative “reform”, the State of New Mexico made algebra a requirement for everyone and none of the kids had room on their schedule for my elective class. When I got that news, I took the Law School Admissions Test, applied to the University of New Mexico and was immediately offered a financial aid package which almost exceeded my salary as a teacher.
In a perfect world, the best and the brightest would teach, and be handsomely rewarded for it, and the second-rate would be relegated to the profession of law. Ours is, however, far from a perfect world.